This week, we get our first episode in which Tuxedo Mask doesn’t swoop in to save the day by doing nothing. Unfortunately, it’s hilariously terrible. But before we get to that:
The Mysterious Sleeping Sickness: Protect the Girls in Love
Hello, listeners. You’re living in a friendly urban community where the sun is hot, the moon grants young girls mystical powers, and mysterious masked gentlemen pass overhead while we all pretend to sleep. Welcome. To Midnight Zero.
A new entertainment craze is sweeping the Juban district. Young women everywhere are listening to a late night radio program called Midnight Zero, where heartsick women send their love letters to be read out loud because grand gestures are just so much more effective and romantic than, you know, direct communication. Coincidentally, there’s also a mysterious sleeping sickness that appears to only affect young women.
Let’s pause a moment for Usagi’s parents to show off some classic gender roles.
The writers of the best love letters get sent pretty flower broaches to show off with, and guess who shows up late to school with one? Ms. Haruna, naturally, who also immediately succumbs to a sleep from which she cannot be woken. That’s a strange coincidence that Luna probably would have picked up on, except she’s currently wandering the streets of Tokyo griping about how Usagi doesn’t respect her and bumping into Motoki. Fortunately, he does not hear a cat talking to herself out loud, and offers her a saucer of milk.
This is her reaction:
I’m not sure where I picked this up, but I thought that Luna is a woman disguised as a cat, rather than a talking cat. Maybe she’s just… always liked milk?
The next brief scene confirms what we suspect: Midnight Zero is part of an evil plot spearheaded by a beautiful, mean-looking woman! But then we get back to Usagi and Naru chatting after school.
Turns out Naru has been sending lots of love letters to Midnight Zero, pretending they’re to her future imaginary boyfriend, hoping to get one of those flower broaches. I’m sure this will in no way go wrong. Usagi is inspired to try her own hand at love letter writing, just before she bumps into her own future boyfriend, who has not even been named yet and he’s still insulting her intelligence. I mean, this time Mamoru doesn’t even show up near the site of the “crime,” he’s there entirely on coincidence. Get out of this show unless you’re doing some real vigilante work, Mamoru!
As it turns out, Usagi is just real bad at writing love letters. It’s like me and writing my own writer bios.
So she decides to go straight to the source, and ask Midnight Zero announcer J. Daito what makes a good love letter. Unfortunately, nobody at the radio station has heard of the show. And also, like, they don’t let teenage girls into their offices after dark, Usagi. Not after the last time. It took weeks to get the goat hair and candlewax out of the carpets.
Somebody’s gotta be airing the show, though, because it’s back on when Usagi gets home, and Naru’s latest letter is read out loud. The next day, Naru’s got her very own flower broach, which instantly puts her to sleep and even infects Usagi when she tries to shake her friend awake.
Cue Usagi’s hilarious love dream, which I didn’t until just now realize reminds me of my favorite dream sequence of all time: the dream within a movie clip within Singing in the Rain. Usagi’s all flying around some pretty clouds until she finds Tuxedo Mask, who is… brooding? Chillin’? Just like… hanging out.
Literally. Hanging in the air.
Tangent: I laugh at this dream because I have literally had this dream. Usagi asks her crush if he likes her too, he says yes, she’s super happy, and then they move their relationship to a new level of intimacy. I had one of those in college at a point when I was super crushing on a guy, and if you’ve ever had one, you will know what it’s like to both feel utterly disgusted with your subconscious for coming up with something so unsubtle, and SUPER DISAPPOINTED that you had to wake up.
Anyway, Luna wakes Usagi up, either because the magical sleep had less of a hold on Usagi because she wasn’t actually wearing the broach, or because Luna has has magical cat wake up powers (I’ll let the cat owners weigh in). I hope it’s the former, because then I don’t have to ask why Luna didn’t just wake up all the other girls in the hospital that Usagi has been taken to. Turns out, all the girls are dreaming of love, and their youthful energy is being siphoned off by Queen Beryl, et al. Luna tells Usagi it’s time for her to finally get around to solving the mystery of the week. Thank goodness for Luna.
Back to the radio station, where Usagi gets her fondest wish of last episode: a new item. It’s a Wand of Disguise Self, with command phrase “Moon Power.” Or it’s a magical pen. Usagi uses it to make herself look like “a gorgeous newscaster!”
Tell her, Usagi.
For a moment Luna actually believes that Usagi can successfully masquerade as an adult for five minutes, but, having four legs, she hadn’t reckoned on the ganglyness of a teenager in high heels. Still, Usagi’s disguise gets her past the guard and into the recording studio, where it appears that Jadite and his monster-lady of the week Furau have put all the audio engineers and interns into an enchanted sleep.
But once it becomes clear that “J. Daito” is behind putting all those girls to sleep, Usagi gets serious real quick, which apparently manifests itself in A HILARIOUS GROUCHO MARX WALK as she stomps past Furau and into the recording booth.
Interrupting Jadite at his microphone like any good Strexcorp employee, Usagi delivers a stirring address about how the flower broaches issued by this station are dangerous to their wearers and should be taken off immediately. Furthermore, she says, everybody should just go talk to the people they’re interested in: expressing your love is meaningless if you don’t actually express it directly to your intended! Sure, she’s repeating what Luna told her earlier in the episode, but it’s still laying down the moral of the episode and establishing that not everything goes in one ear and out the other with Usagi.
Then Furau comes through the plate glass window of the studio like a train.
And then it’s time for… A ROOFTOP FIGHT.
You don’t understand, Batman is my favorite superhero. It’s all rooftops all the time in those comics. This is like coming home. Usagi only has a little difficulty disintegrating Furau with a tiara attack, but this is a two-part boss battle! Now it’s Jadite’s turn, and he’s apparently immune to tiaras.
Also, toddlers. Yeah, totally weird coincidence. This fight is still missing one crucial player, though. Are you ready for the most minimal Tuxedo Max appearance yet? So we start with the rose coming down.
Aaaand that’s it. Jadite gets this “Ohh, you” look and then nopes outta there through some kinda dimensional portal. Tuxedo Mask doesn’t even show himself or say anything until after Jadite’s gone, and then it’s only to, well, Team-Rocket-blast off into the night, having successfully defended his spot as #1 most mysterious motherfucker in Juban. All the young girls wake up, Midnight Zero is over, Ms. Haruna returns to class, and status quo is restored until next week.
Oh boy, next week.
Learn How to be Skinny from Usagi
When I came into the office and told Victoria that I’d watched episodes 3 and 4 this weekend, she put on the nervous grin of the long time fan meeting somebody who just watched their series’ “that episode.” You know. That episode. For Battlestar Galactica, it’s “Black Market.” For Avatar, it’s “The Great Divide.” For Star Trek: Voyager, it’s “Threshold.” I got the sense from Victoria that this episode, where everybody Usagi knows tells her she’s definitely getting fat but that’s okay because some men like that, is maybe that episode for Sailor Moon?
So, right, Usagi is freaking out because she, a fourteen year old girl, has gained some numerical weight on the scale that is not reflected in her physical appearance. Her dad’s immediate reaction: “That’s okay, people look better with a bit of meat on their bones.” Nice try dad, replacing one physical ideal with another. A sit down talk with her smiling family makes it clear that they all totally agree: her weight is something she should work on and she should have realized earlier that her current lifestyle of eating and sleeping like your average fourteen year old is the problem.
Okay, though. In shows where teenage leads have big secrets or alternate identities, it’s fairly common for adult figures to be depicted as unaware of their surroundings, or silly, or, generally not as infallible authority figures. Maybe Luna, the magical guide, mentor, and mature member of Sailor Moon’s two person team will have the right words to make Usagi fee —
DAMMIT, LUNA, I WAS COUNTING ON YOU. So Usagi starts to diet, and she, Naru, and two other girls whose names I didn’t catch, talk about the difficulties of conforming to unattainable beauty standards. One of them, clearly drawn to emphasize her roundness (and possibly also her homeliness, although I think she looks super cute) relative to the other girls, cheerfully agrees that it’s tough to stay fit.
The ideal motivation, they conclude, is wanting to stay super hot to attract the guy you love. Look, I think we all know what the message of this episode should have been, if the time period and whatever other circumstances got this episode into a series intended for the empowerment of young girls hadn’t gotten in the way, but let’s illustrate it just to be clear:
But it’s not just the poor body image message in this ep, there’s also the weird fan service shots. The girls have noticed that Ms. Haruna (man, give Ms. Haruna a break, last week it was endless sleep and this week it’s endless exercise) is looking pretty good these days, as the camera does a slow pan up her body. Cue Umino revealing his total creepitude.
Man. I forgot that Umino’s kind of a creeper. He’s taken expertly staged photos of Ms. Haruna before and after she started going to the gym. Grooooss. The girls chase him down once they realize he invaded a teacher’s privacy, perfectly setting up this expert comedy beat:
Okay, Usagi, drop a train on ‘im.
I am not ashamed to say that I laughed at this. Oh, Usagi, just when I think you’re growing up a little. Usagi and friends head off to Ms. Haruna’s celebrity-sponsored gym.
Fortunately, there’s a sale, so the girls will be able to start working out for free. But at what cost… At the cost of their energy. We all know the drill by now.
Meet personal instructor Jadite, here to get your pecs chiseled, your abs rock hard, your buns like marble, your biceps like… more stone puns, is what I’m saying. Stone puns.
Also, meet three other personal trainers who I’m pretty sure are here because they didn’t make it into Street Fighter. I genuinely love these three random-ass tan, buff, unitard wearing dudes. My favorite thing in any anime is character designs that look like they walked in from another show (this explains my love for Samurai 7, where nearly every goddamn character looks like they’re from different anime).
The four girls get exercising as Jadite just crams in the destructive ideas about self-image. After their work out, he invites them into the Shape Ray, “the pride of our gym” and absolutely not a slow death machine, we promise. Fortunately, Usagi is again saved by being lazier than her peers: she’s chillin’ out in the spa, which we know because we get a gross slow pan over her sitting naked in a tub, complete with underage cleavage. That’s before we get to Jadite’s death machine, which, I mean. Look.
I hate exercising. I love being able to run and lift and crunch and plank, but I hate exercising. And I’ll be the first to look at something like the Bowflex and think “medieval torture device.” But there’s no getting around this. This is a death machine.
This is a death machine.
After having their energy sucked out in Jadite’s pods, Usagi’s friends feel and look sick, but Jadite tells them they look beautiful and they immediately cheer up. As Jadite says to Queen Beryl, “The foolish women want to lose weight no matter what.” Abandoned by her friends, Usagi wanders Juban, hungry and exhausted, creeping out kids with pork buns.
Turns out that by “on a diet” she meant “not eating at all” which is just about the definition of what not to do when you want to lose weight, and after an afternoon of hard exercise, she faints. Luckily, Motoki happens to be there.
In the faint, she has another one of her love dreams, but this time about Motoki instead of Tuxedo Mask. The sub says she calls him “Motoki” in the dream, but she’s clearly saying “oniisan” and I understand the cultural significance of that, but I also watch a lot of Revolutionary Girl Utena, so I still think it’s creepy.
Upon waking Usagi confesses her diet plans to Motoki, and he gently admonishes her. “Thank goodness,” I think, “the opposite gender mentor archetype is here to offer some real dang advice.” But no, dammit, he just likes curvier women. That’s right, Usagi, don’t listen to that guy at the gym. Listen to this other guy! She does, and runs out to buy some pork buns. Whereupon Mamoru shows up to fat-shame her. At least this time she deliberately throws something at his head.
After finishing the buns, she and Luna sit down at a park for some real talk.
OH THANK GOD, somebody’s figured it out.
Get out of here, Sailor Moon. Just… end this episode and get back to regularly scheduled programming.
Luna tries to get Usagi on track with how the women who visit Ms. Haruna’s gym have all become skin and bones (which is not attractive to any of the male characters, and therefore just as unacceptable as being fat) and how it’s probably the forces of evil, but unsurprisingly, after literally everybody in the dang show so far has offered an opinion on Usagi’s weight, Usagi’s not really paying attention. She rushes off to the gym, not to save the day, but to keep working out. While there, Luna spies Ms. Haruna, skeletally thin and headed for the Shape Ray for her final treatment, after which she’ll be unable to recover her health and will die. It takes bared claws and threats of bodily harm to get Usagi off the stationary bike and into her transformation to Sailor Moon.
But before saving Ms. Haruna, Sailor Moon has to fight those three hilarious Street Fighter extras, who are being mind controlled by their hilarious tiaras. His mission accomplished, Jadite teleports outta there. Usagi is understandably terrified by fighting three adult bodybuilders, and won’t do it until Luna points out that fighting counts as exercise.
And so we’re treated to three beautiful shots of Sailor Moon kicking the heck out of these dudes, no Tuxedo Mask required.
Ms. Haruna is saved, but the bad guys are still calling this one a victory. And naturally, the stinger on this whole episode is Usagi realizing that despite all of her efforts, she’s gained even more weight.
Moon Prism Power Wrap Up
Man, I guess I could talk about “Mysterious Sleeping Sickness” and what Usagi’s disguise choices betray about the ideal selves of fourteen year old girls, but lets face it: “Learn How to be Skinny from Usagi” is the elephant in the room, here.
Initially, I thought this episode had conflicting themes, maybe as a result of writers trying and failing to write a message of empowerment. On the one hand, it says that it’s important that women should make their bodies conform to the prospective gaze of men and male desire. On the other, women are also foolish for choosing to “shorten their lives” to lose weight. But I think it’s actually not quite right.
The episode is saying that women should work to maintain an arbitrary beauty standard. The fault is that Jadite is exploiting women in their good pursuits and leading them to sacrifice too much. So work hard, ladies but not like, so hard it’s clear that you’re working hard. That’s not hard enough. NO, now that’s too hard. Look, why can’t you just do this naturally? It’s a gross message, but it’s also just sooooooo blatant that I’m sort of amused. I find it much harder to get past shows that are more insidiously supportive of stereotypical gender roles or harmful assumptions about sex, etc. But a show that just hamfistedly waves a bad message in my face? It’s like watching an incredibly annoying eight year old trip and fall. Sure, that kid is still annoying, and he’s not going to stop being annoying, but he’s just betrayed the supreme weakness of his form: no finesse.
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